Digging through my archives (aka: my movie collection) for an 80s break from the endless “stream” of modern trash I bombard myself with, I decided to make it an early 80s marathon of 3 horror films themed around wildlife gone…wilder…
Before directing Cat’s Eye and Cujo, Lewis Teague rode the coattails of the late 1970s Jaws craze by bringing a 30-foot alligator to the streets. He did it so damn well this film actually still holds up…and without CGI.
It starts in Trump cult America, at an alligator wrestling competition. A little girl is so horrified by seeing a man get chomped that she convinces her parents to get her a baby alligator as a pet. Before long, her dad flushes it down the toilet (with absolutely no buildup showing why he flipped out on it).
Our leading man is always charismatic veteran actor Robert Forster, who plays a detective trying to accept the onset of middle age. He looks pretty good in 80s tight jeans if you ask me.
He’s also coping with the fact that his partner died on the clock, as well as investigating bodies showing up in the sewer system.
As more and more people find a reason to go down into the sewer, there’s alligator POV and Jaws rip-off music, awesome scenes of alligator attacks, and a camera left at the scene of an attack that finally reveals what they’re actually contending with.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t get more old school horror than the detective hooking up with the female scientist he’s working with. Seriously, the message in all 80s movies is that you just bang the broad helping you out on a case simply because she’s there.
The film really kicks into gear when the fricking gator smashes up through the sidewalk and starts roaming the streets, taking dips in pools, crashing weddings…
It even eats a child in a scene that has always stuck with me since I was a kid…and is the reason I wouldn’t go in the pool until all the floats were removed so I could be sure there was nothing under them.
The final chase and battle in the sewer rox, plus we get a glimpse of…a young Freddy Krueger?
CAT PEOPLE (1982)
This remake of the 1942 film came at a time in the early 80s when shapeshifting and erotic horror (American Werewolf in London, Altered States, The Hunger) were playing in heavy rotation on cable alongside loads of slashers. I can definitely appreciate this one more now than when I was a kid…but I still like slashers better.
It opens with an ancient desert scene featuring a tribe and leopards on a tree for a mythological, artistic visual effect. I’m surprised I was able to get into this movie back when I was fourteen considering I did an eye roll even watching my DVD now as a semi-mature adult.
In the modern age, Nastassja Kinski reconnects with her long lost brother, Malcolm McDowell, and we learn that after raising Blanche Devereaux, Mammy Watkins went to work for him.
Malcolm disappears for a while and a black leopard terrorizes the town.
Actually it terrorizes Lynn Lowry, playing a prostitute who isn’t a very good whore, considering she doesn’t recognize a huge puddle of spooge when she sits in it…touches it…and smells it.
John Laroquette and Ed Begley, Jr. have small background roles (Ed’s screen presence eventually gets smaller).
John Heard is the curator at the zoo where Kinski gets a job, and Annette o’Toole is a coworker she befriends.
The real fun (after Lowry’s cum play) is when Malcolm gets naked…I mean, returns, and the truth of his and Kinski’s relationship unfolds.
She begins to explore her animal side—especially when she finally gets a transformation scene near the end.
The best creepy scene in the whole film has O’Toole being hunted while swimming in an indoor pool.
And the truth behind Kinski’s erotic connection to Malcolm is so filthy good for the early 80s (incest and beastiality, wahoo!).
And of course, we have the David Bowie/Giorgio Moroder theme song recurring in various forms throughout the film…
…except for the form in which it appeared on Bowie’s Let’s Dance album a year later.
OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983)
Before the monstrous Leviathan in 1989, director George P. Cosmatos made this little critter feature. Having always weird actor Peter Weller as the star was a perfect choice, because you’d have to be weird to go through what he does.
Weller plays a man who built his home from the bottom up, so he takes it personally when he gets a leak and it’s determined he has rats. He becomes obsessed with the rodents. He researches their every move, consults a rat expert on how to combat them, and then battles the one super rat that is terrorizing his home.
The title says it all, because this is no ordinary rat. It’s smart. It outwits him. It outwits his cat. It turns the traps he sets against him! And yet Weller persists, stays in his home, and slowly helps the rat destroy it as they use it as their fighting arena.
What makes this film so mesmerizing is that Cosmatos gets so up close and personal with the rat it just skeeves you out.
I’m talking right up in its mouth as it chews wires, under the bottom pad of its paw as it walks over glass tabletops, through the shredded insulation of the walls it’s tunneled.
On top of that, it gets all up in Weller’s most intimate personal space, there are plenty of jump scares, and there are a couple of gruesome dream sequences. Now that Of Unknown Origin is out on Blu-ray and I watched it again for the first time in decades, I can see why it was one that stuck with me when I originally saw it as a teen in the 80s.